This article also appeared in Trad And Now magazine, issue no. 153, December 2022
2022 has been a big year for fans of Canadian folk-rocker Neil Young.
(Arguably it’s been a big year for Neil himself, but he wasn’t available for comment prior to press time.)
It’s been 50 years since Young’s seminal album ‘Harvest’ was released in February 1972. (The column author was in first grade at Rosary Demonstration School at the time and was sadly oblivious to this moment in musical history.) ‘Harvest’ was the best-selling album of 1972 in the USA and has remained Neil Young’s best-selling album to date.
‘Harvest’ was remastered and re-released on 2 December 2022, and not surprisingly in this digital, multi-platform age, it comes with a host of extras. The reissue comes in either vinyl or CD box set form, with both including two DVDs. Young’s much-bootlegged ‘BBC In Concert’ is included on CD and vinyl in the respective packages, and three ‘Harvest’ outtakes are also made available in physical form for the first time – on a third CD or a 7-inch record in the vinyl set.
And early December 2022 saw the debut limited release of the 1971 film ‘Harvest Time‘, a documentary covering the ‘Harvest Barn’ sessions at Young’s northern California farm, his performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in London, and in Nashville there are scenes of Young working on various album tracks.
Meanwhile, in Western Australia, a band called The Human Highway is keeping ‘Harvest’ and Neil Young’s music in general alive in performance. The creation of WA-based musos David Hyams and Rose Parker, The Human Highway has just wrapped up a series of concerts for 2022 with a hometown gig at Freo.Social in Fremantle.
It’s not too much of a leap of faith when watching The Human Highway to connect with the original music. Blindfolded, I’d struggle to separate David Hyams and Neil Young in an aural line-up.
The band played the whole ‘Harvest’ album, but rejigged the order a little, while shovelling in heaping handfuls of material from ‘Comes A Time’, ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, and more.
Between sound check and gig time, I grabbed a few minutes of David Hyams’s time to have a chat.
Bill Quinn: David, I seem to remember from a recent interview that you maybe came to Neil Young’s music later in life.
David Hyams: I came to actually doing a Neil Young show later in life, but I came to Neil Young quite early. Some of the first songs I learnt on guitar were, as for many people, ‘Old Man’, ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ – they were in my very early years of guitar playing.
And I got to love those songs, and ‘Comes A Time’ was a big favourite of my teenage years. So I was quite into him from an early time. Through the years, I loved quite a few things he put out – some of them not so much! The relationship has been going on for a very long time.
BQ: Did he influence your own songwriting?
DH: Not really consciously, but I think probably unconsciously there’s a lot of influences from people I listen to and learn from in that period.
I did get many comparisons of my voice with Neil Young when I was doing my own songs, but it was never a conscious thing.
BQ: And so how did The Human Highway as it is now come about?
DH: We had this series in Fremantle called ‘The Newport Record Club’ which was done out of The Newport Hotel – a very established band venue [closed in December 2021]. We were asked to do an album there as part of this series they were putting on where a band plays a classic album – A and B side.
We decided to do ‘Comes A Time’; I’d been playing with Rose Parker for a long time and we both love Neil Young, so we thought that was a good album for us to do. Roy Martinez‘s playing with Rose and me as well, so he seemed the obvious choice of bass player.
We got the band together. We had to get in a pedal steel and fiddle to do the album, to reproduce it faithfully, so we got Jeremy Threlfall and we’ve now ended up with Adam Gare on fiddle who fits into the lineup really well.
DH: We did that first show in 2014 and it went down really, really well and they asked us back the next year. They had this series called ‘Rewind’ which was basically coming back to do the same album. So we did ‘Comes A Time’ again and we also did ‘Harvest’.
We did a few of those, and after a while we thought this has got a bit more legs to it.
We tried a few other things; we put some feelers out in the regions and we went to Albany and Esperance. Rose and I were doing an annual show at the Quarry Ampitheatre (City Beach, Perth) where we’d open for a bigger band doing some classic hits or something like that. We suggested doing the Neil Young show and the promoter was really keen on it.
So we did it and it sold out, and we’ve done it every year since.
BQ: How is it received out in the regions? Do you get a lot of rusted-ons come along, or people just looking for different music?
DH: There’s definitely a lot of fans out there. It went really well in Albany; we played at the entertainment centre there and were pretty close to full. In Esperance we had a much smaller crowd, but really enthusiastic. We’ve hopefully got some shows coming up up north. We did Darwin Entertainment Centre this year.
BQ: How did that go?
DH: Really, really well. The room wasn’t full, but we had a really great crowd, and possibly some of the most activity after a show that I can think of. We had lots of people posting, and we did a bit of a meet and greet afterwards. A lot of people coming up – long term Neil Young fans – saying, ‘That made our year.” That kind of thing.
BQ: And you’re brave going up from Fremantle/Perth to Darwin in late November.
DH: Yeah, the timing sort of coincided with our run of shows so we knew it wasn’t going to be ideal.
BQ: I was thinking more about the heat.
DH: Yeah, the heat and the fact that a lot of people leave town [in the build-up/start of the wet season]. A lot of people said, “Come and do it in the dry”, and hopefully we will.
We seem to be getting into a few festivals. Some people would call us a ‘tribute band’, though we don’t really apply that title to ourselves. We’re just a bunch of people who love playing Neil Young and we love playing the music with an authenticity, we hope.
We’ve been asked to go to festivals. We’ve done Fairbridge Festival a few years ago. A bit in the style of the Bernard Carney [Beatles Singalong] shows where we get a lot of different people up to sing different songs, and that was fantastic. That lifted the roof off Ruby’s Wine Bar.
We’ve been booked for Nannup Music Festival next year, we did Bridgetown Blues Festival – so we’re getting into a few of the festivals which is really, really nice for a so-called tribute band.
BQ: So onwards and upwards, and bigger and better next year, then.
DH: I hope so, yeah. It’s been going very well, so we can’t hope for too much better. But we hope for some new venues and some new audiences. And hopefully some of the same fans come back from time to time.
The next outing for The Human Highway is at Nannup Music Festival, WA from 3 to 6 March 2023. The Human Highway is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thehumanhighway.